GALVESTON — A former county social services worker pleaded guilty Monday to a theft charge that accused her of stealing money from people in her care.
Sylvia Ann Villarreal, 47, of Hitchcock faces from two to 20 years in prison on the second-degree felony charge. Her punishment hearing is set to begin Aug. 12 before Judge John Ellisor of Galveston’s 122nd District Court.
Villarreal worked for the county’s guardianship program, but she was fired March 2, 2010, after nearly 15 years on the job. A grand jury indicted her in October 2010 on a charge of theft by public servant, accusing her of stealing between $20,000 and $100,000 between June 2007 and April 2009.
Villarreal pleaded guilty Monday without a plea bargain or sentencing recommendation, said James Haugh, a prosecutor with Public Integrity Division of the Galveston County District Attorney’s Office.
“She acted as a guardian for these people and managed their bank accounts,” Haugh said. “It was her job to pay their bills. If they were in a nursing home, her job was to pay the nursing home or for their medical care.”
Villarreal’s case files, when stacked atop one another, measured about 7 inches thick. It mostly contained business records of banks with pages upon pages of copies of checks.
“The county auditor and our fraud examiner put a lot of hours into this case for sure,” Haugh said.
Judge Gladys Burwell appointed Villarreal as a guardian for wards of the county. In a normal review, Burwell noticed some irregularities in the checks being written on the wards’ accounts. Burwell then contacted the district attorney’s office.
Villarreal’s attorney didn’t immediately return a message, seeking comment.